Literally translated, Genchi means the actual location and genbutsu means the actual materials or products. But genchi genbutsu is interpreted within Toyota to mean going to the place to see the actual situation for understanding. Gemba is a term that has become more popular. It refers to “the actual place” and means about the same thing as genchi genbutsu. The first step of any problem-solving process, development of a new product, or evaluation of an associate’s performance is grasping the actual situation, which requires “going to gemba.” Toyota promotes and expects creative thinking, and innovation is a must, but it should be grounded in thoroughly understanding all aspects of the actual situation. This is one of the behaviors that really distinguishes someone trained in the Toyota Way—they take nothing for granted and know what they are talking about, because it comes from firsthand knowledge.
It would be relatively easy for management attempting to learn from the Toyota Way to mandate that from this day forward all engineers and managers will spend a half hour observing the floor to understand the situation. But this would accomplish very little unless they had the skill to analyze and understand the current situation. There is a surface version of genchi genbutsu and a much deeper version, which takes many years for employees to master. What the Toyota Way requires is that employees and managers must “deeply” understand the processes of flow, standardized work, etc., as well as have the ability to critically evaluate and analyze what is going on. (This may include some analysis of data.) In addition, they must know how to get to the root cause of any problems they observe and communicate it effectively to others. As Tadashi (“George”) Yamashina, president of the Toyota Technical Center, explained:
It is more than going and seeing. “What happened? What did you see? What are the issues? What are the problems?” Within the Toyota organization in North America, we are still just going and seeing. “OK, I went and saw it and now I have a feeling.” But have you really analyzed it? Do you really understand what the issues are? At the root of all of that, we try to make decisions based on factual information, not based on theory. Statistics and numbers contribute to the facts, but it is more than that. Sometimes we get accused of spending too much time doing all the analysis of that. Some will say, “Common sense will tell you. I know what the problem is.” But collecting data and analysis will tell you if your common sense is right.
When Yamashina joined the Toyota Technical Center as president, he laid out his 10 management principles , which include principles three and four that relate to genchi genbutsu:
- Think and speak based on verified, proven information and data:
- Go and confirm the facts for yourself.
You are responsible for the information you are reporting to others.
Take full advantage of the wisdom and experience of others to send, gather or discuss information.